Cardinals Looking to Improve

As Grand Valley continued its march toward another inevitable national championship last year, brutally destroying every team that stepped in its path and averaging more fans than some professional sports teams, another team in the college dodgeball heartland was making some noise of its own.

Saginaw Valley State, despite the stiff competition from GVSU, Delta College and Michigan State, continued to prove why it belonged amongst the NCDA’s elite teams.

But despite the recent success, the SVSU dodgeball squad wasn’t always associated with winning.

The team got its start in the fall semester of 2006. They suffered through a winless regular season their first year only to surge during the national tournament and take home a sixth place ranking and a fresh wave of confidence.

Under the fearless leadership of team founder and captain Bryan Janick, the Cardinals returned for the 2007-2008 season with a mission: to beat Grand Valley and win the national championship.

“The obvious school rivalry between SVSU and GVSU naturally makes us want to beat them, and we figured if we beat them we could have a good chance to win a national championship,” Janick said.

Unfortunately for Janick’s squad, GVSU derailed both of his team’s ambitions as they beat the Cardinals twice during the regular season and again during the national tournament.

The Cardinals finished the year with plenty to build upon, though, ending with an impressive 9-5 regular season record that included a notable overtime victory over Delta College.

Their hot streak continued into the postseason, where they racked up a 3-2 record on their way to the team’s first ever final four appearance.

“Last year was our first full year playing college dodgeball and to make it to the final four was amazing for the team,” Janick said. “Most of the team was freshman and sophomores, so we feel like we have a good chance to win a few national championships before we’re done,” he said.

Perhaps the most important accomplishment for the Cardinals last season wasn’t reflected in their overall record. Despite losing to GVSU three times last season, each loss came by smaller margin than the one before it.

“We are a young team and we’re getting better every time we play. I feel like we have a good chance to upset them this year, especially with the new students coming in this season,” Janick said.

Only time will tell which “Valley” team will emerge victorious and claim dominance in the college dodgeball capital of the world this season. Their first clash, which takes place on September 12, should offer anxious fans some clues about this intense rivalry.

No matter which team comes out on top, don’t expect the outcome to stop Saginaw Valley from striving toward the ultimate prize of winning the national championship.

“Winning the championship is more important because we would be helping the prestige of the club sport and Saginaw Valley State University.”

Something to Learn: To Err is Human

Story by: Aleks Bomis

On June 2, 2010, baseball fans witnessed some of the best things about the sport. Detroit Tigers fans will be quick to disagree. Who can blame them? Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Tigers, had the game of his career, officially retiring 27 out of 28 batters without a hit. The lone standout to Galarraga’s streak would be rookie Jason Donald, chalked up as a single.

The controversy? Donald’s single, the 27th at bat for the Cleveland Indians, was a blown call by umpire Jim Joyce, costing Galarraga a perfect game and a no-hitter. That’s not a matter of opinion, as calls often are. Joyce personally apologized to Galarraga minutes after the game, later saying “I just cost that kid a perfect game” on local radio. Replay showed Donald was approximately 2 feet from the base when Galarraga, then positioned at first, made the catch to force Donald out.

There are a couple of ways to properly frame this scene. The first is to note the rarity of the perfect game. In almost 400,000 games of Major League Baseball, 20 have achieved perfection. Sweeping a presidential election might be the only task more difficult. Galarraga earned that perfect game and should be rightly credited for it. For Joyce to take the rarest of achievements away from a player with a clearly incorrect call is bad for baseball and infuriating for Tigers fans.

The other way to frame this is in terms of what happened after the call by Joyce. If you watch the replay, you’ll see Galarraga’s reaction to the call was one of the calmest responses ever observed. No tirade, no outburst, just a smile. You just don’t see that kind of behavior in professional sports.  Joyce’s actions after the play were equally as rare. Officials make bad calls, but personally apologizing to the aggrieved player and announcing to the media that you screwed up is unheard of.

In short, the participants involved acted the way people are supposed to behave. As the NCDA enters the 2010-2011 season, it’s nice to know officials at the highest level of competitive sports err, sometimes egregiously so, and players at the highest level can act with the docility Galarraga exhibited.

There’s no question officiating has been a sticking point since the NCDA’s inception. Teams need to place a greater emphasis on educating their players on the rules and on how to properly officiate a game. Further, the practice of grabbing a couple freshmen at the last second and telling them to ref needs to end. New players are often in the worst possible position to officiate, having played precious few games themselves.  At the same time, the hysterics some players resort to when receiving an unfavorable call also needs to end. If a man can have history taken away from him and smile, there can be no justification for getting into a shouting match over a dodgeball match.  Hopefully this baseball game and the MLB’s subsequent actions can serve to benefit NCDA operation this coming season.

Saying goodbye to the game I love

If you’re in college, hopefully you’ve had the experience of graduating high school.

(If you haven’t, you don’t have to turn away, but this next part might not resonate with you.)

Graduation day is packed with emotions – happiness, anxiety and nostalgia come to my mind. It’s the last time you’ll probably see most of your classmates, some of whom might be friends you’ve known since childhood. You’re shedding a chapter of your life you were convinced would never end and facing a future that suddenly seems much scarier. To cap off the craziness, your entire family usually witnesses your ascension into the ranks of adulthood.

For many students, graduation day is tough. For others, it’s a celebration many years in the making.

I fell somewhere in the middle about four years ago. I wasn’t sad to be leaving high school or scared of what lay ahead at Western. I was content. That’s the best way I can describe it. Not joyous. Not depressed. Just content.

That same feeling washed over me the minute I walked into the Perry Fieldhouse on April 10. For those of you in the know, that was the first day of Nationals 2010. After a mid-season vote, BGSU had stepped up to deliver the cherry on top of an incredible season.

But as the league descended on Ohio for their crack at the championship, I was gearing up for my final NCDA event with the men who comprised Western’s team.

It wasn’t graduation day, but my emotions were fully in control as I crossed the track surrounding four shrouded basketball courts early Saturday morning. As I passed, I saw faces familiar from past games and some I knew only from profile pictures. I smiled at everyone. This weekend, I was among 250 of my closest friends.

Our first game was against UWP. At last year’s tournament, we’d played them in the third game on Saturday and gotten beat 7-1. I had been embarassed but knew at the time my young team was running on fumes and UWP seemed to be going strong.

I knew my team had improved significantly since that loss and I planned on proving it at Nationals. I had a plan in place that I thought gave us the best chance to win on Sunday, and the first step was dishing out some revenge against the Pioneers.

With a carefully crafted rotation in place, my guys took the court. Like they always do, everybody played frantically the first half, rushing throws and acting like they’d never heard of teamwork before. We went into halftime down 2-1. My plan was in serious jeopardy, and I yelled at my team to “get their s**t together” for the second half.

Not one of my finest moments, I’ll admit.

But right after my meltdown, I experienced one of my greatest moments as captain with a little help from Andrew Swanson, one of our newer players. As I strolled away from the huddle to collect myself, I heard Andrew encouraging his teammates and telling them keep their heads up lest UWP feed off the negative emotion.

I was taken aback. Here was a guy who’d only joined the team last fall, yet cared so much about his teammates that he countered my frustration with encouragement. In the words of my dad, Andrew’s speech served as my “attitude adjustment” for the weekend.

I sheepishly returned to build off Andrew’s encouragement and get my guys ready for the second half. Whether it was me or Andrew, they were ready to respond to some positive reinforcement.

We ended up winning the game 4-2 with some of the best teamwork I’ve ever seen. Guys were throwing together, blockers were diving in front of their helpless teammates and everyone played their role.

That feeling of pride only swelled during our next game against GVSU. I had only played the defending national champs once, and that was a 16-0 trouncing at my first-ever NCDA tournament. I wasn’t planning on a getting even, and with our defensive game plan, I actually expected the game to be quite painful. I had no idea how my guys would respond to what was essentially catching practice against the league’s hardest-throwing team, but I needed to see if we could stick to our strategy.

I could spend the next 1,000 words breaking down the game, but I’ll just say that I was happier with our 4-0 loss than I’ve been with several victories during my time at WKU.

Every single guy played brilliantly. Some guys had to step into roles they weren’t used to for that game, and their response astounded me. I’ll never forget the sight of J.D. Gilliam, probably our greenest player, racking up 6 kills during the first point of the game.

To put it in perspective, that would be like Dennis Rodman putting up 20 points in the first half of a Bulls game. I was stunned, but the Lakers seemed flabbergasted by our tactics and J.D. just picked them off one by one. Sure, we lost that point and the three that followed, but for a brief moment, a rookie got to step into the spotlight on college dodgeball’s biggest stage.

The weekend was filled with plenty of other awe-inspiring moments for me.

After finishing up the first day games, I attended my final captains’ meeting. I hyped on my blog that this meeting would be a Team Jacob vs. Team Locke showdown between myself and Jack Attack. While we did disagree on certain issues, I was frightened later that night at how much Jack and I saw eye-to-eye on. As I told him via text, I didn’t like that he was pulling me over to the dark side.

Following the meeting, I got to indulge in one of my favorite rituals: eating at Ruby Tuesday’s. Driving 30 minutes and getting sidetracked by a dumbfounded GPS didn’t matter once I sank my teeth into a Tripe Prime burger. Felix Perrone and Alex Heichelbech (my two alternate captains) will attest to the amazingness of that burger.

I finally fell asleep on the hotel bed around 2:30 that night. Our two late arrivals knocked on our door at approximately 2:31. I’m convinced they waited outside until they knew were asleep so they could wake us. Needless to say, I let Felix handle their arrival while I worked on falling back asleep.

Ahhh, the perks of being a captain.

The next morning, my guys showed up sore. Since our best player decided about 12 hours earlier he couldn’t make it for Sunday’s games, I knew our goose was pretty much cooked. I wouldn’t be winning a championship in my final season, but I did want to go down swinging.

We did just that in our final two games. Against DePaul, we caught the court jesters off guard with some antics of our own. Just check out the pictures from Nationals for a glimpse at raccoon boy and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. With the goofy karma on our side, we made it 2-for-2 against the Blue Demons by beating them 4-0.

Kyle Dahl provided some fireworks when the Sasquatch of college dodgeball tried to punk Jared McKinney, one of our newer players. I won’t comment any more than to say I’ve never been happier for Kyle to get a red card.

My final game against CMU ended up a left-handed throwing point. How appropriate. Amidst all the testerone and machoism, my dodgeball career ended with a reminder that we’re still playing a children’s game.

I left Ohio without a trace of sadness in my heart. My dodgeball career played out better than I could have imagined. The friendships I helped forge during my three years as Western’s captain are a high point in not only my college career, but in my entire life. I could never express my gratitude to the people who helped make it all possible.

Like Michael Jordan, I’m stepping away from the game I love in the prime of my career. But not to worry, because much like MJ, I won’t be gone long. In fact, the next time you see me, you probably won’t even have realized that I was gone.

What do I mean, you ask?

Four words: Western. Kentucky. Nationals. 2011.

See you there!

Why I love College Dodgeball

Just admit it.

Deep down, way past any sense of self-control and common decency, there are times when you would love nothing more than slam someone in the face with a hunk of rubber the size of a soccer ball.

It’s alright. We’ve all felt that way.

But here’s the exciting part that most people don’t seem to realize: you can.

Whoa, wait a second!

Before you go rushing out to your nearest sporting goods store to snatch up your very own plubber (plastic/rubber) kickball emblazoned with Scooby Doo, let me rephrase that last statement.

There is a game that not only allows you to slam people in the face with rubber balls, it encourages such cranial obliteration.

That game is college dodgeball.

Ever since the release of Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, there has been an underground resurgence in the popularity of the playground game taking place on college campuses across the nation.

What started as a clash between the first collegiate teams at Kent State and Ohio State has blossomed into a national organization (the NCDA) and a slew of new teams with more on the way.

So with the popularity of the sport skyrocketing to new heights, is there a reason some people still think college dodgeball is a joke?

(Thinks to himself)

Nope…I got nothing.

Unless you were the scrawny kid in gym class or just allergic to fun, you’ve got nothing but fond memories of dodgeball from your childhood.

I know I do.

We used to play almost once a week when I was in middle school. Anytime our PE coach wanted an excuse to eat donuts or check out his latest skin mag, he would roll out the dodgeballs and all Hell would break loose. The utter chaos that would ensue during the next hour never fails to make me smile in hindsight.

I continued to play during high school and loved the game so much that I even started my own team once I arrived at Western Kentucky University.

Starting off, we only played each other. It was fun for the first couple weeks, but facing the same opponents every weekend got tedious pretty quickly.

So imagine my delight when I found out there were other college teams out there that wanted my squad to come join their ranks. It was like Christmas come early!

I worked the rest of the spring and the beginning of the fall semester to get my team ready for play. Amazingly, I found it was pretty challenging getting people to come play on my team. Some claimed they had more important stuff to do.

Puh-lease!

More important than some much needed stress relief and a chance to get all the hottest babes on campus? (OK, so I made that last part up.)

Nevertheless, we showed up to the first annual Kentucky Classic anxious but ready to go. My heart was hammering inside my chest like Woody Woodpecker stuck in a permanent time loop.

To this day, I still feel that one of the most underrated things about college dodgeball is the nerves before a game. Standing on the court before our first ever match, I literally felt like I was about to leap out of an airplane. With no parachute. Naked. And on fire.

When that whistle finally blew, my life as I knew it changed forever.

I dodged, I ducked, I dipped and I dived. Playing GVSU in the second game, I even dumped in my shorts a little bit.

This was a game that I had never played before and am convinced that I will never play in the future. It was beautifully simplistic and utterly unique. The sound of rubber slamming into flesh had never sounded so beautiful.

It was the tempo of the game, the teamwork from the players and the total intensity of the whole experience that completely sucked me in.

One year and several losses later, I’m still in love with this crazy game.

Why?

Because contrary to popular belief, you can never have enough of a good thing. And considering that dodgeball left “good” in the dust a long time ago, you know it’s got to be tough to walk away from this amazing game.

I, Josh Raymer, love college dodgeball.

Patches O’Houlihan would be proud.

Why Nationals 2011 Will Rock

Story by: Josh Raymer & Felix Perrone

Paid, semi-professional referees. WKU is going to hire eight officials to referee both days of the tournament. To get them prepared, they’ll ref WKU’s practices the month leading up to Nationals. Having paid refs will help avoid scheduling conflicts and keep overwhelmed player refs from being ignored during big games. It also leaves teams to enjoy their free time between games.

A better lunch option on Saturday. As opposed to pizza, each team member will be given a pass to Fresh Food, our school’s buffet-style cafeteria. About a three minute walk from the recreation center, teams can enjoy a hearty lunch during their scheduled break.

Stringent enforcement of the rules. Commissioner Bomis has made it clear that the following rules will not be ignored next April:

10 player rule – come with less than 10 players and you’ll be turned away at the door.

Student IDs– players must present a valid ID before playing. This prevents students from other schools and alumni from playing on teams where they don’t belong.

20 player cap– 5 bench players is all you get. JV teams will get action before Nationals.

A new seeding formula. Bomis has proposed this on the forum and it’s still being tweaked, but there will be a new way for determining Saturday’s pools that will help us avoid what happened with this year’s tournament, which featured some loaded and not-so-loaded pools. This formula will probably take into account season performance AND performance on Saturday to give us the most fair and accurate seedings for Sunday’s games.

All-Star game and skills challenges. We want to start Saturday off with a bang by finding out who has the league’s best hands and its fastest arm with help from the ROB 9000 and a radar gun. Winners will get actual awards and be recognized on the website. The All-Star game will come after the skills challenge. Preliminary teams are Michigan vs. Everyone Else. Nobody knows a team’s best players better than its own members, so each player will nominate either 2 players (for team Everyone Else) or 4 (for Team Michigan) from their own team to determine the makeup of each squad. The two players from each team with the most votes get selected as All-Stars. And yes, players can vote for themselves. Both All-Star squads will even get their own uniforms, which will also serve as the souvenirs for All-Star players. The winning team also gets actual awards and recognition on the website.

Comprehensive media coverage. We made a step in the right direction with live podcasts from this year’s tournament, but we’re going to up the ante for 2011. What does this mean? Well, plan on footage from EVERY game that is played on both days. That’s right, every single one. On top of that, we’ll have two announcers per court who will call the action from each game. That recording won’t go up as a podcast, but rather as voiceover for the game footage, essentially providing the games + commentary that every major sports league enjoys. A separate Nationals YouTube account will be set up so players can re-watch games at their leisure. Finally, each media duo will be tweeting updates throughout the day.

Full color program for every player. During the course of the season, Jazzy will collect team photos, rosters and blurbs for each team. He’ll compile then into a beautifully designed, full color program to be handed out at Nationals.

Cheaper cost per team. Right now, the preliminary cost looks to be about $175 per team. That includes referee, food, shirt and All-Star game costs.

Nice facilities. Granted, BGSU’s Perry Fieldhouse is the ideal place for a dodgeball tournament. While we can’t match that, WKU’s recreation center just underwent a $50 million renovation and is well-equipped to handle the number of teams that show up in Bowling Green next April. We’ll have four courts dedicated to game action and (hopefully) a large, multi-purpose room where players can lounge in between games.

The chance to play a championship game on the main court in WKU’s basketball arena. Not since Nationals at GVSU have teams had this opportunity, and if things go according to plan, the two teams left standing at the end of Sunday will square off on the most revered court in south central Kentucky. Now we just need to work on filling that place to capacity!

AJP Live: Nationals 2010 – WKU v DePaul

Average Joes' Podcast LogoRecorded Live from Nationals ’10

Warning: for mature listening audiences only! 

Hungover and embracing the comical nature of WKU vs. DePaul, Newton teams up with his podcast co-host to provide commentary to all the debauchery happening on the court.

Play

AJP Live: Nationals 2010 – CMU v Miami

Average Joes' Podcast LogoRecorded Live from Nationals ’10

Bomis and Newton look for meaning in the tournament’s most lopsided game between Miami University and Central Michigan University. Is a 17-0 blowout by CMU justified …

Play

WKU: St Jude Tournament

Story by: M. Blake Harrison

On Saturday, Feb. 13, Western Kentucky University hosted a five-team charity tournament at the Raymond B. Preston Health and Activities Center.

All proceeds went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

In its first game, WKU faced Northwestern State University out of Louisiana, who was competing in its first-ever tournament.

Many opposing players said they were caught off guard by the Deamons’ efforts, specifically because of their inexperience.

After dropping the second point, the Toppers sealed the victory with three straight points to finish the job.

WKU sophomore Kyle Dahl made his presence known late to push them to victory.

“I just had to step up and make the throws,” Dahl said. “You’ve just got to have those certain people that want to step up if you want to win.”

Though he did perform well in his first game, Dahl said he was trying to save his arm for the next two.

In their second game, Western fell to The Ohio State, 3-1.

The Buckeyes beat them quite convincingly, winning three consecutive points after allowing WKU to win the first.

OSU didn’t discriminate, going undefeated in the tournament and taking home the trophy.

Joe Spicuzza, a senior for the Buckeyes, said he really enjoyed his time in Bowling Green.

“It’s been great,” Spicuzza said. “This is probably one of the funnest times I’ve had playing dodgeball.”

Up 2-0 at the half, WKU went on to beat Kent State University by a margin of three to one.

Western sophomore Colby Osborne was key to his team’s win over KSU.

“You really had to pace yourself, pick and choose your shots,” Osborne said.

Josh Raymer, founder of WKU’s dodgeball team, said he wanted the team to host an enjoyable tournament that provided a competitive atmosphere.

He admitted that some other teams are ahead of the Hilltoppers at this point, but said he sees progress being made.

“We’re right there at the cusp of being at their level,” Raymer said. “I think we really measured up to what I’ve seen so far.”

While each team participating did want to win, it was clear that there was a greater mission to be accomplished.

Through the sale of tournament t-shirts and spectators’ donations, $1,010.76 was raised for the Research Hospital.

Felix Perrone, a Western sophomore, was instrumental in the event’s planning.

“I wanted to have a great time and try and raise some money for these kids,” Perrone said.

His father, Peter Perrone, who is the vice president of PNC Bank in Bowling Green, was able to secure $500 from the bank to add to the amount raised.

“It’s a worthwhile cause,” he said. “We were just glad to be able to help out a little bit.”